Committed to a celebration of and conversation around art (pop & fine), we think it makes sense to showcase original works by contemporary artists. As such we’ve started profiling a recent exhibition or series by an artist in our community every Tuesday. At the bottom of this post you’ll find a video of Reid discussing his practice.
Sylvan: Work by Reid Strelow was curated by Allison Peller and John Silvis is now on display at the First Things Editorial Offices in NYC.
Allison Peller (curator) on The Sylvan Ideal:
Reid Strelow’s work consists of carefully crafted pieces that shift between sculptures and drawings. His most recent work of hanging wood sculptures carved with a chainsaw and dyed with black ink, are highly influenced by his return to Minnesota after living in Brooklyn for over five years. While the genesis of this new series, currently on view at First Things, is primarily autobiographical, the end results encompass the universal struggle of establishing an ideology that is not constantly threatened by reality.
The title of the series, Sylvan, stands as a sly hint to the viewer of the autobiographical nature of the work, while simultaneously marking the complexity of ideas the sculptures encompass. Coming from the Latin Silvanus, who was a woodland deity, sylvan means “of the woods,” or denotes “one who lives in the woods.” Strelow’s recent move back to Minnesota found him living in such an environment. Here his studio moved outside, allowing him the space needed to make larger works and experiment with using a chainsaw as a mark-making tool. But any romantic notions of creating art in wide-open spaces while surrounded by nature were quickly grounded in reality after the first onslaught of brutal cold and snow that are synonymous with winter.
The jagged and blackened wood stands as a monument to this death of an ideal. Resembling charred wood, it appears as though the sculptures have emerged from a refiner’s fire, with any remaining superfluous components having been ruthlessly carved away to leave only the essential elements. The idyllic no longer remains, but in its stead is something stronger that will endure the unavoidable elements of both weather and life.
While the title is a clever allusion to Strelow’s personal history, by naming the series Sylvan, he purposefully links the works to a wider concept of mythology. Vastly different than the idealized fairy tales we are familiar with today, mythology is brimming with flawed individuals who despite their strengths, virtues, or beauty rarely achieve their ‘happy endings.’ With this in mind, and his own failed vision of making work in the woods, Strelow is striving to reveal how each of us are living out our own personal mythologies, and contending with our own lost or misguided aspirations.
Despite the seemingly desperate nature of the work, there is a sense of hopeful expectation as the viewer studies the geometric shapes and carvings of the individual pieces more closely. Specifically, the long vertical pieces have complimentary concave and convex elements allowing them to visually interlock. This crucial relationship counteracts the misery that can accompany harsh reality. It hints at the creation of a new form or being, and reminds us that when things collapse we can find truth in flaws.
Just as the title of the series grounds the work in literary and ideological complexities, the carefully chosen materials that Strelow uses sets up another layer of significance. The sculptures assert a strong physical presence while embracing the materiality of the wood. Knots and variations in the wood grain are visible and the roughly carved surface resulted in a splintered façade. Meanwhile, the planar quality of the works prevents their presence from becoming overwhelming, and opens the door to read the pieces as large drawings or prints. Contributing further to this view is Strelow’s use of Japanese Sumi ink. Traditionally used for printmaking and calligraphy, the dried ink produces a slightly reflective surface that reads as graphite.
Conflating the materials and dimensions of drawing and sculpture creates a space that is constantly shifting. This oscillation echoes that of the passage between artist autobiography and universal mythologies. It also mirrors life. As individuals we are continually in the process of adjusting our ideology as we struggle to find something that is grounded in reality. But just as Strelow’s work asserts that hope and new beginnings are always present in the collapse of old aspirations, I believe if we maintain our faith as the bedrock on which we build our ideals, the exposure of flaws will only leads us to the truth.
Artist & Curator Bios
Reid Strelow, a contemporary, Brooklyn-based artist, works as a sculptor and installation artist. Strelow graduated with an MFA from Hunter College, New York in 2012 having received a BA in combined media from Bethel University in St. Paul, MN in 2007. He has exhibited his work in Brooklyn, New York City, and Vienna, Austria.
Allison Peller is an independent curator who lives and works in New York. Peller has curated exhibitions in Minnesota, New York City, and Brooklyn. She is currently earning her MA in Curatorial Practice at the School of Visual Art, New York and graduated in 2008 with a BA in Art History from Bethel University, MN.
John Silvis is a Brooklyn-based artist and curator. He received his MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna and has received numerous grants and awards, including a commission for the Essl Museum in Vienna. Silvis’ recent contemporary art research has taken him to Beijing, Berlin and Zurich. Some recent exhibitions include “Crashcourse IV,” Norte Maar, “What I Know,” NYCAMS, New York (2012), “Crashcourse III,” Olson Gallery, Bethel University, MN (2012), and “Goodbye Space Shuttle,” Active Space, Brooklyn (2011). His recent curatorial projects include “New. New York,” Essl Museum, Vienna (2012), “1000 Rainbows,” Lia Chavez, First Things Gallery, New York (2012), and “Life Drawing,” Joshua Cave, First Things Gallery, New York (2013). His forthcoming exhibition “With Love from Brooklyn” will be shown at the FADA Gallery, University of Johannesburg in 2015.